The Neighbor Behind The Wall

Standing by the entrance in a wealthy family’s compound

I come from the rugged individualist mindset of the Midwest. When I first arrived in Bali, my senses were assaulted on too many levels to count. One perplexing issue that baffled me was the fact that whenever I left the house I was asked, “Where are you going?” When I entered a shop, salespeople interrogated me. “Where are you from? Where do you live? How long have you been here?” And every time I returned to my neighborhood I was quizzed again. “What did you buy? How much did it cost?”

My sensibilities didn’t know what to do with such intrusions on my privacy. I judged the Balinese to be the nosiest people I’d ever met. To protect myself and avoid being rude, I devised indirect responses that didn’t answer their questions but often brought laughs.

Now, years later, I understand.

The Balinese are straightforward, caring, curious, and engaging. If you’ve gained weight, they’ll tell you you’re a little fat, not to be mean, they’re just honest. If they like the way you look they’ll gush over your appearance and want you to show them how you do your hair all the while with an arm wrapped around your waist. Physical touch is natural and comfortable for my Balinese-women friends.

The first time I was treated so intimately I had to fight tears. I was out of my comfort zone but deeply moved. Such a simple thing, touch. But in the West we’ve assigned innuendoes, connotations, suspicions. We’ve lost the ease and comfort to be had in simple acts of sisterly affection. So unfortunate.

But about walls and neighbors…

Every Balinese family compound I’ve visited is surrounded by a hefty wall. On the inside, often three or four generations of the family live together, share food, a single kitchen, and the duties of everyday life. Their neighbors, with a similar configuration of family members, live on other sides of the wall. As you can imagine, advanced levels of cooperation, and respect are essential.

From Bali Now – Mapping Bali 20: The Traditional Balinese House Compound
Culture | Written By, Bruce Granquist September 22nd, 2017

I didn’t know any of that at first and I wondered why Ketut was constantly in service – helping others in the village build a cow shed, repair a cistern, or loaning his car. I suspected that perhaps it was caste-related as many things are in this Hindu society. I couldn’t have been farther off the mark.

After I’d learned enough of the language to merit deeper conversations, and realized Ketut was willing to talk about absolutely anything, I got around to asking why he was always being called upon to assist.

“If I help them, when I need help they help me.”

“Yes…but…it seems like you help all the time. Does anyone ever help you?”

“Always! Sometimes I do many little things but then I need one big thing.”

This culture, and Ketut’s wisdom, have changed me from an independent, I can do it myself-er, to an integral part of a tight-knit, inter-dependent community. The family on the other side of my wall benefits from Ketut’s ability to fix anything and I’m the beneficiary of his big-hearted willingness to help.

The other night a friend came to visit. She limped in on a motorbike with a flat front tire. Ketut was gone for the weekend so I called my neighbor. He came in a flash with his tire pump and the situation was remedied in no time. Not only that, he sent my visitor off with his pump in case the tire deflated again before she got home.

A few days later, I needed documents from a village an hour and a half away. My neighbor is in the midst of a building project, a busy man, but he knew the location and volunteered to go with Ketut to pick up the paperwork. Off they went at 6:00 a.m. the next morning and returned four hours later, mission accomplished.

By my accounting, that was far beyond the tit-for-tat code of neighborliness. I remembered that he likes whisky, specifically Jack Daniels. In spite of the tireless service mentality, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to show appreciation in unexpected, tangible ways. From the look on his face when I delivered the bottle this afternoon, he won’t mind lending a hand next time I call.

Funny thing though – about five minutes after I made the delivery, I heard my neighbor summoning Ketut. Laughter and happy conversation has been floating over the wall ever since. Are you thinking what I’m thinking…???

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. monica
    May 19, 2021 @ 21:29:35

    i love your writing! I look forward to seeing it in my in-box. Bali on my bucket list!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Anonymous
    May 19, 2021 @ 22:39:14

    Delightful and I appreciated the illustration. I often tried telling friends about the compounds but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Sounds like the men had a good time! Sharon

    Liked by 1 person


  3. Diane Struble
    May 20, 2021 @ 12:47:12

    Lovely stories, Sherry. I, too, have helpful neighbors and my Mom was always helping everyone who needed it. All of this in spite of our Midwestern independence.

    Liked by 1 person


  4. Gail
    May 22, 2021 @ 06:50:58

    That was beautiful, Sherry, and just so true. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person


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