Revising My Blob-ish Lifestyle

Before Covid, I had destinations. I walked.

In early Covid days, with Bali completely locked down, I did qigong, yoga, and surfed the net for workouts. I had to keep my body moving to manage the trauma. I couldn’t concentrate. The only thing I could focus on was movement.

That lasted about two months. Then I started writing again – and sat.

I sat through the last six months of 2020 and the first six months of 2021. Here we are in July and I’m a blob. Granted I’m a flexible, strong blob thanks to my continued dedication to yoga, But even though I haven’t gained weight, my flesh has settled into a new arrangement. I’m totally shapeless from my sagging seventy-one-year-old boobs to my flat buttocks.

It’s not that I can’t hit the pavement and hike around Ubud. I don’t have to battle tourists. There’s no traffic. The air is unpolluted. But I’m not one of those who can walk aimlessly just for the sake of walking. I need a purpose – a goal.

Without somewhere to walk to, I can’t make myself do it.

A week ago, as I was staring off into a sky puffed with cottonball clouds, I heard a sound that has become so familiar over the years it’s part of the morning music. My neighbor was jumping rope. He’s as faithful to his routine as I am to yoga, but that’s where all similarity ends. He’s ripped. His calves are knotted with muscle and there’s not an ounce of unnecessary flesh anywhere. Okay, he’s fifty, and he’s been doing this forever. But the light went on for me as his rope slapped the floor.

Faster than you can say Amazon, I was online with the Indonesian counterpart to that mega-store searching for jump ropes. There were choices. Some were plastic tubes with flashing lights. Others came in glow-in-the-dark colors. I settled on utilitarian black with ball-bearings in the handles, guaranteed to make the rope turn with a mere flick of the wrists. I put it in my cart and clicked the buy button. A message flashed on the screen. You need two more items. I puzzled over that for half a second. The rope probably didn’t cost enough to warrant shipping. It was about $5.

There isn’t an English language option on this site so rather than confuse myself, I added two more jump ropes to my basket. This time the order went through. Delivery July 6th.

They arrived yesterday, July 1st. I love that about Lazada – they under-represent and over-perform.

The ropes were long enough to accommodate an eight-foot supermodel, but they were adjustable. I spent the afternoon customizing one of them to my 5′ 2″ height, then tucked it beside my workout clothes and promised myself I’d start tomorrow.

Tomorrow arrived this morning.

My neighbor jumps non-stop for an hour. I decided I would set the timer for two minutes jumping, one minute resting, two minutes jumping etc. A nice, easy start. I spread my mat on the terrace, set the timer, and assumed position. Jumpjumpjumpjump – too fast.

I stopped, reset the timer, and started again. Jump…jump…jump…jump… Still too fast. One more reset. Jump………..jump……….jump……….

Heart pounding, I sat down to rest and revise my expectations.

After numerous stumbles and fumbled starts, I found a combination that worked – jump for thirty seconds and rest for 60. I kept that up as long as I could which today was about 15 minutes.

What a workout. I had no idea. And I also had no idea how little stamina I have. This rope has arrived just in time.

I’m not discouraged. It’s the kind of challenge that excites me. I don’t have to meet my neighbor’s level of endurance. OMG. Never in a million years! But I can and will keep at it until I can do two minutes non-stop without going into cardiac arrest.

There seems to be an added benefit. After that brief but intense exercise, the rest of the day I’ve been supercharged with energy and my mood is elevated in spite of the news that Bali is going into another lockdown July 3rd. The Delta variant has reached us and numbers of new cases have spiked from weeks of double digits to 311 today. That’s heartbreaking for the struggling economy and the millions out of work.

But the sad reality is, lockdown doesn’t actually change much of anything for me except physically meeting up with a friend in an outdoor restaurant. As of tomorrow, restaurants close to all but pick-up and delivery orders. Seventeen months later we’re back to square one. But I’ll tell you what… When this is over I’ll have the endurance of an ostrich.

**The ostrich runs at 30 miles per hour and has the endurance to keep it up for hours on end, thanks to their remarkable anatomy that minimizes effort while running. Having evolved on the plains of Africa, they are well-accustomed to the heat as well.

Baffling Bountiful Indonesia – Doors Fly Open For Wayan

Mysterious Indonesia, the largest island country in the world, is made up of over 17,000 separate island provinces. Most of them have their own language, their own religions, rituals, and customs. The country spreads in a graceful curve just north of Australia and has the world’s fourth largest population.

I’m reminded of the Tower of Babel story – in reverse. According to that tale, the Babylonians were building a magnificent city that would touch the heavens. They wished to make a name for themselves. God foiled their plans by confusing their language.

They could no longer understand each other so all work ceased.

Indonesian leaders realized the only way they were going to successfully govern such a mixed bag of rugged individualists was to create a national language and make it mandatory throughout the entire educational system. So when the country gained it’s independence in 1945, that’s what they did. That action emphasized and underscored Indonesia’s motto: Unity in diversity.

Because this diverse population is able to communicate with each other, the people, goods and wonders of all the islands often intersect.

In Bali, I’ve come to expect the unexpected. Opportunities to experience vastly different cultures and viewpoints present themselves daily. At the same time, the potential for misunderstanding is huge. Patience is essential and waiting until all have had their say, then coming to an agreement that suits everyone is diplomacy at its best. “Good for me, good for you,” is a familiar phrase in Bali indicating a satisfactory compromise.

The Balinese have also mastered kesabaran.* They sit for hours in full temple dress waiting for the high priest to arrive so a ceremony can begin. Unlike us in the West, they don’t expect anything to happen fast, not in ceremony, not in life.

I’ve sat with them on the ground, sweating in my corset and lace, eaten by ants. But when it begins…OMG! The pageantry, the ritual, the sound and color make me forget the hours of discomfort.

Wayan’s journey is proving to be no exception. As we go forward, we make new contacts and realize there isn’t just one option available. Right now we’re in the process of researching an offer that would allow her to begin training sooner and work abroad more quickly.

Every step advances Wayan’s adventure. It thrills me to see how willing people are to help this young woman achieve what very few in her position can hope for. All of you who donated so freely are the ones making this possible.

Hang on, friends! I’ll keep you posted as we go. This promises to be an exciting ride!

*kesabaran – patience

GoGetFunding and other nightmares!

In spite of tutorials…

In spite of Google searches…

In spite of having created my own websites and accomplished other technical tasks on my laptop, setting up a fundraiser for Wayan pushed all my luddite buttons.

Luddite (Urban Dictionary): One who fears technology (or new technology, as they seem pleased with how things currently are…why can’t everything just be the same?)

I’ve never felt so ill-equipped to deliver on a promise…EVER! That will teach me (hopefully) not to offer up specific help without doing a tiny bit of research first so I know what the heck I’m talking about.

But this is not all about me. It’s about my Balinese friend, Wayan, whom I’ve known since she was thirteen – she’s now twenty-one.

Wayan is Ketut’s sister-in-law. The oldest child in her family was a boy. He died young leaving six sisters and his grieving parents to cope without him. When I visited Wayan’s family home, I felt like I’d been whisked backward in time to a much earlier period.

At one point during my visit, Wayan’s mother handed her a large bucket and asked her to get water. I tagged along thinking I’d help her carry the pail. Once it was full it was bound to be heavy.

We walked a fair distance then the path dipped over what looked to me like a cliff. Wayan proceeded as though still on flat ground. I hesitated. Should I follow her, scooching down on my bum? I managed to keep up, slip-skidding sideways, grasping branches, and maintaining somewhat of a grip with my flip-flops – not the best for mountain climbing. We descended a distance of a two-story building then Wayan stopped at a bubbling spring. She filled the bucket, placed it on her head (no, really???) and began the ascent while I clawed my way behind her, crablike, in awe.

I think that’s when I knew this girl could accomplish whatever she set her mind to.

Unlike many young people raised in remote mountain villages of Bali, Wayan had aspirations. As I grew more adept at the language she began to share stories of her life. Her parents could not afford tuition to pay for high school so Wayan worked on a construction crew, carrying washtubs of rocks on her head to building sites. When she had enough saved there was a family emergency and her parents needed her money. “I was very sad, but I must help them,” she said.

Her education was delayed. Eventually, Wayan found a school in Tegalalang that offered night classes. She stayed with a family that had a small cafe there, working in the cafe during the day and going to school nights.

It was during that time, while still attending night classes, she came to work for me. She was even more industrious than I had believed and her desire to excel in everything she did was inspirational.

The need to better herself obsessed her. After graduation, she heard about a culinary program at Crystal College that offered evening courses. She was accepted into the program. Upon completion, she was granted an internship at a five-star hotel in Bangkok, Thailand.

There’s a phrase in Indonesian for that kind of resilient courage. Keberanian tangguh. Wayan has it in spades. She went to Bangkok and began her work at the hotel. Two months later the hotel and the whole world shut down. Covid had arrived. Wayan came home, devastated. She felt she’d failed.

Her parents had plans for her. She would marry her cousin. That way they’d have a male heir and the home would remain in the family when Wayan’s parents passed on. He’d agreed to come and live with them contrary to Balinese custom where the wife always goes to the family home of her husband. Women inherit nothing.

Wayan wasn’t on board with the plan.

In March, she came to visit so we could celebrate her 21st birthday. She was working to support the family, selling vegetables at the night market in the capital city of Denpasar. When her shift ended around 6 a.m. she motorbiked to Kintamani, 1 1/2 hours away, to cook in a cafe during the day. This was her schedule seven days a week.

“When do you sleep, Wayan?”

“There’s no time to sleep,” she said, and the deep purple half-moons under her eyes confirmed the truth.

Wayan’s 21st birthday dinner at Famous in Ubud

So when I got an excited message from her weeks later that said she was considering a job in Japan, I wanted details. Crystal College works with an international employment agency and they were interviewing for positions at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Tokyo. Wayan had interviewed and been accepted.

I messaged her and asked why she wanted to work in Japan. She sent this reply:

“I want to change my life to be better and all people who underestimate me see me success even though I’m just a poor person. I want to pay for my sisters’ school, I don’t want both of them to feel same as me – can’t continue to senior high school because my parents couldn’t pay for it. I want to build a new house and family temple for my parents. That is why I want to go to Japan.”

Wayan (center) with her parents and two sisters in front of their home

There was only one catch. Money.

Wayan’s current two jobs gross about $10.00 US/day on the days she works both of them. She’s supporting her family since her father is out of work and her mother isn’t well. Her starting salary in Japan would be many times that.

If she wants to work in Japan, she has to pay the agency 35.000.000 rph ($2,500 US) for providing her with two months of Japanese language education, a visa allowing her into the country, a work permit and sponsorship authorizing her stay there, arranging accommodations, providing airline tickets, and a three-year contract. She’d also needs to buy warm clothing – something unheard of in Bali.

That’s when I made my harebrained promise to set up a fundraising campaign to help her finance this opportunity.

It’s taken three days and many frustrations, but as of now Help Wayan Change Her Life is live on the GoGetFunding platform. If you have a little extra to spare, I can’t think of a more deserving person than Wayan to bless with a leg-up.

That Miserably-Addictive Chemical-Laden Seductive Killer

I awoke feeling virtuous.

Yesterday I walked the Campuhan Ridge at midday, a sweaty mile of uphill exertion and epic beauty. It was a solitary endeavor – a chance to collect my thoughts, commune with nature, and see if my post-lockdown body could still do it.

There were changes. In places the jungle encroached, overhanging the path with a dark quiet that spoke of slithery things hiding in its depths. A giant swing that had once enticed Instagram photos was gone and with it the man selling beverages and snacks. But most noteworthy was the absence of hikers. I passed a tall blond woman, and later two Indonesian women, the only humans besides me on the trail at eleven-thirty that morning.

Cloudless skies overhead, full equatorial sunshine, and a steady incline ensured an intense aerobic workout. The reward at the end of the climb kept me going. Karsa Kafe – the second floor seating overlooking swathes of green paddies – a haven of repose.

I arrived and settled in. The ever-present breeze licked away perspiration. Far in the distance, hazy purple mountains stood sentinel, their peaks ringed with clouds. All was as it should be – all except the emptiness. I was it, the sole patron of those glorious surroundings.

For two-and-a-half hours I drank in the peace – and the beer – undisturbed. A giant plate of crisp, sweet-potato fries fortified me while I let the frustrations and stresses of an unknown future slide off into the fields.

When my phone rang, I answered it. There was no one to disturb. Jessa, my oldest, was calling to congratulate me on getting vaccinated, the first long-awaited jab.

“When will you get your second dose, Mom?”

“It’s scheduled for August 20th.”

“Three months? That means you’ll come in September?”

It felt odd to make a plan after ages of uncertainty. Dare I hope? Could I be reunited with children and grandchildren as early as September? It felt surreal, intoxicating yet suspicious, like a gold-wrapped gift had been placed in front of me but would be snatched away the moment I reached for it. And yet, my optimistic nature overruled and I strategized whole-heartedly with her, stuffing doubt into a cramped corner with fear and worry.

High on hope, cooled and refreshed, I trotted the downhill path back home.

That’s why this morning I awoke feeling virtuous – all that great exercise – I deserved a treat. And what could be more delicious to kick-start the day than a steaming cup of 3-in-1 Nescafe?

I don’t drink coffee anymore. It wreaks havoc with my nervous system and my sleep. I weaned myself off by substituting ginger tea. I blend raw ginger root with a little water, squish it through a strainer, and store it in the refrigerator. One tablespoon of concentrated raw ginger juice mixed with steaming hot water lights my mouth on fire and curbs the craving for anything else.

Except Nescafe.

So I limit my intake of that miserably-addictive, chemical-laden killer to special occasions.

Like this morning.

I savored the aroma, salivated, nested the hot cup in my hands and sipped.

Bliss!

When the refined white sugar, glucose syrup, hardened palm oil, caramelized sugar, maltodextrin, mystery stabilizers, milk proteins, salt, emulsifier, instant coffee, and natural and artificial flavorings kicked in, which took all of about three minutes, a sense of magnanimous well-being settled over me. Anything seemed possible – even a trip to the States in September. Especially a trip to the States in September.

Five minutes later, the many forms of sugar I’d just ingested slammed my bloodstream with a megablast of energy. Luck was with me. Multiple pieces of furniture in various stages of refinishing waited on the terrace.

Ketut did the bulk of the work but he’d gone home for a few days. Within seconds I was armed with 1000 grit sandpaper, vigorously skimming the varnished surfaces until they shimmered silken-smooth to the touch.

Moving my body eased the hyped-up edginess.

But I know this story.

The rest of the day I’ll be aware of the low buzz. My limbs will tingle – not altogether pleasantly. And if I allow it, low-level anxiety will haunt me. By bedtime I’ll be tired but chances are I’ll sleep fitfully, if at all.

Is it worth it, that seductive killer cup?

Once every month or two?

You’d better believe it is!

Please don’t ever let this become ordinary

You know how things that once amazed and delighted you fade to ordinary over time? It happens with just about everything: jobs, clothing, marriage.

When I moved to Bali, I remember sucking in fragrant, moisture-laden air, staring enraptured into bottomless ravines, tasting foods that exploded with heat and thinking, “Please don’t let me ever take this for granted.” I’ve gotten comfortable here, but I’ve never lost the tingle of delight at the scents, the landscapes, and the bursts of fire on my tongue.

Early on, I learned to ask for “Not spicy, please,” whenever I ordered Balinese fare. There’s one memorable eating adventure that still makes me giggle. I’d pointed to the word Rujak on the menu and asked the server what it was.

“Fruit salad,” she replied.

“Safe,” I thought. Little did I know the sweet papaya, pineapple, banana, and watermelon would be served drowned in a dressing heavily laced with cayenne pepper!

I’ll admit, though, there is one thing that did fade over time.

I was curious about the whistling I heard daily. It wasn’t raspy, electrical-wire-humming sound that cicadas make. This was pure, melodious, and it went on continuously for around thirty minutes every morning. One day I was having coffee with my neighbor and there it was. The whistling.

“What makes that sound?” I asked.

“What sound?” It had faded into background noise for her.

“The whistling,” I said.

“Oh, that. It’s just birds.”

Whistling birds circling over my Bali garden

I accepted her explanation and thought little more about it. Nine years later, I sat down to lunch with an expat friend who had lived in Asia most of her adult life. I’d watched the birds circling and whistling that morning and was mesmerized anew by their disciplined flight pattern and ceaseless sound. Once again, I wondered what kind of bird it was. No amount of Google searching on my part had turned up any evidence. She answered immediately.

“They’re a kind of pigeon – like homing pigeons. They’re trained to fly in circles.” I quizzed her for more but she shrugged and said that was all she knew.

Later that afternoon, I refined my Google search and this time hit pay dirt. It was one of those mind blowing moments of discovery.

Wikipedia told me that whistling pigeons have been used in China since at least the Ching Dynasty (1644 – 1912) and are also popular in Japan and Indonesia. But wonder of wonders, the birds aren’t born whistling. Tiny, lightweight whistles, painstakingly carved, are sewn into their tail feathers. The sound changes with the speed and direction of flight.

Photos from China Today

I was instantly obsessed and had to learn more. Who makes the whistles? How are the birds trained? This video answered all of those questions and several others I hadn’t thought to ask.

It seemed the flock that circled my garden was the only one of its kind in town. Over the past year of lockdown however, with time on their hands, it sounds like others may have gotten into whistle carving and pigeon training. Now there’s a new school that circles high over my back garden as well. (Pigeons. A band, dropping, flight, kit, loft, passel, plague, school – notice I resisted using plague for obvious reasons!)

The practice in China has diminished due to increasing urbanisation and regulation. I understand why. It’s a noisy hobby.

Ubud is more laid-back. People here can raise anything they want. Across the street from me in the town’s center, a family keeps chickens in makeshift coops on their flat rooftop. When the humidity is high and the wind is right, I’m keenly aware of the pig farm a block away.

It’s the complexity. The element of surprise. The strict rituals of Bali Hinduism nudged up against the relaxed approach to the rest of life that keeps amazement and delight alive in me. There will always be a mind-blowing vista to discover, a suspicious cuisine to sample, a new perspective on an old idea to explore.

Ordinary? I should say not. Extraordinary? Absolutely – like falling in love again with each sunrise.

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…???

Mother’s Day Confessions

I’ve never admitted this to anyone but as Mother’s Day rolls around, I’m reminded of the strange disconnect I experienced as a mom. Maybe you can relate. Maybe not. Here’s the story.

As a young adult, motherhood wasn’t on my to-do list. I’d never given it much thought. Neither had my first husband. We were about three years into the marriage when his highschool sweetheart wound up pregnant. As it turned out, he was the father. I left him with her in Muskogee, Oklahoma – can’t say I was terribly disappointed to escape Muskogee or my philandering husband.

Children weren’t on the agenda three years later when I married again. But after a tumultuous six months we had a night of unprotected passion and…our divorce was final the day before my first daughter was born.

Six years later, married again, I gave birth to my second daughter near Alum Creek, Texas. My husband was an accountant for a company that laid oil pipelines, hence Texas. Two years after that, my third sweet girl arrived. By then we’d moved into the eye-blink town of Smithville.

My daughters are the joy of my life. As they were growing up, every year when Mother’s Day approached they went into giggling-hush-hush mode. Breakfast in bed was the highlight. I awoke to chocolate ice cream on Trix cereal one memorable morning.

But I promised a confession and here it is.

Every year it was the same. Amid the hubbub of my own household, I forgot that I also had a mother. It would hit me, perhaps the night before, or the morning of, and I’d panic that I hadn’t given a single thought to honoring that dear woman on her special day. It was too late to mail a card, but with a hurried personal call to the florist in my hometown who was a friend from school, and a Happy Mother’s Day Skype with Mom later in the day, I always covered my dilinquent tracks in time.

Mom passed a year and nine months ago. But it’s strange – as that day approaches and I see promos for flowers or gifts popping up on my phone, I forget that I’m a mother. All my thoughts are of her until one of the girls calls with a cheery, happy Mother’s Day Mamma, and I recall that I’m the matriarch now.

As a result of those chotic, childrearing years, I understand if my kids momentarily forget me. In Bali I’m a day ahead anyway and no one caring for toddlers can be expected to keep in mind the time zone variations of my reality on the other side of the globe. It’s a thrill and a joy whenever I hear from them.

Before I bid you a happy day and get on with mine, I want to mention how freeing and healthy it is to have no expectations. It’s the key to contentment. If you don’t expect something from someone, you won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t materialize. Unmet expectations are at the core of unhappiness.

Here’s wishing you a very happy Mother’s Day whether you hear from your offspring or not! Send your wishes to them first If they have children – jog their memory – remind them that you exist. They’re busy!

Adventure! Following the FBI in Bali

One of the first Indonesian words I learned was petualangan. Trying to wrap my Midwestern American tongue around that one was a challenge. But so worth it. Petualangan means adventure.

I woke up this morning with itchy feet. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the UNESCO rice terraces of Jatiluwih and they were calling. At 7:30, Ketut popped his head around the corner of the veranda where I was journaling. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and when he asked if I had a plan today, which he always does, I said yes, adventure.

“Where?”

“Jatiluwih. Okay with you?

“Ya! What time?

“9:00.”

“Good.”

It was a glorious morning, sunny with breezes. A quick check of the weather app showed a high of 77°F (25°C) in the mountains where we were headed. This would be a much shorter journey than the ridiculous 12-hour bike ride that left me feeling every one of my golden years for weeks afterward. I estimated one hour thirty minutes to get there and a quicker trip coming home, downhill all the way.

As soon as we left Ubud, the landscape opened. I sucked in lungs full of farm-scented air (through my mask, of course) and shed the cloud of gloom that’s enveloped the town since lockdown, March 2020.

It’s impossible not to feel a surge of joyous abandon when flying through the coutryside on the back of Ketut’s motorbike. The wind in my face, the congenial chatter, the comaraderie, the laughter – it’s a higher high than any drug or drink could possibly achieve.

Soon the road narrowed and we began to climb.

First we passed this guy.

Then we followed this guy.

It probably says something obscene below the big letters. I couldn’t make it out. If you can, and it does, don’t think poorly of me. I captured the photo on the fly and it was too good to pass up.

I wanted to have this adventure during Galungan. For ten days every six months, the ancestors return from the spirit world to visit their villages. As if by magic, streets transform overnight and elegant penjors arch and sway gracefully overhead.

Each town has its own style. You can tell how well-off the village is by the grandeur of the penjors.

The moment I set foot on this island, the profusion of artistic detail amazed me. From temples, to ogoh-ogohs, to the massive bulls and cremation towers that carry the deceased to their final farewell, the creative wizardry of the Balinese people is astounding.

And then…

What is it about rice terraces that unravels me? It’s been that way since my first trip to Bali in 2010. The guide stopped the car and said to walk around the curve and maybe I would like to take photos. Around that curve was the most jaw-dropping view I’d ever seen. Sunlight glittered on hundreds of pools of freshly planted paddies cascading down the mountainsides. I clutched my throat so my heart couldn’t escape, then burst into tears.

Today I didn’t cry, but reverent awe is always there.

At approximately thirty minutes in, our walk came to an abrupt halt. Heavy rains had washed out the land beneath the trail. The concrete path was broken and hung precariously over the abyss.

“What do you think, Ketut? Shall we try?”

He looked at me like I had two heads. “Maybe never come back,” he said.

“Good point. Let’s go eat lunch.”

By the time we’d hiked the thirty-minute return, starvation was setting in. My mouth watered thinking of the overflowing buffet at Billy’s Cafe. As soon as we entered, I realized that was a pre-covid memory. There was no buffet. There were no patrons. The menu had shrunk to a single, laminated sheet, drinks on one side, food on the other. But the view remained.

We ordered and chatted, ate and chatted, sat enjoying the perfect weather, the idyllic view, and the empty restaurant – and chatted – for hours. Bliss.

There isn’t much I enjoy more than lingering over a meal in the company of a good friend. But shadows were growing longer. It was time to go.

My favorite photo of today’s grand adventure is this one. Three Indonesian flags, whipping in the wind atop needle-thin poles marked the beginning, or from this perspective the end of the path through the terraces. Gratitude welled up within me for this country that has been home for the past nine years. I’ve been treated with utmost kindness. I never realized how much I needed that.

As I stood rapt, gazing upward, I could almost hear the national anthem of Indonesia. It’s blared from loudspeakers every Independence Day but I’ve never known the lyrics. Today I looked them up. The last stanza speaks my heart’s wish:

Let us pray

For Indonesia’s prosperity:

May her soil be fertile

And spirited

The nation and all the people.

Conscious be her heart

And her mind

For Indonesia the Great.

Now I’m curled in my comfy cushions at home, relaxed, rejuvenated, nurtured, and at peace. What a perfect day and a magnificent adventure. Thank you, Ketut.

The Search For A Gentleman

Rainy season wasn’t too rainy in Bali this year. The transition into dry we’re experiencing right now is usually hot, humid, and suffocating, without even a whisper of breeze. But for some blessed reason, the fresh, easterly winds that always begin in June are here now, a month-and-a-half early. The air is clean. Cumulus-cotton-ball clouds float in a sky so brilliantly azure you’d swear Picasso in his heavenly art studio smeared it with leftover Blue Period oils.

Life pulsates in bursts of color and I can’t help but feel hopeful.

Several factors contributed to that positive outlook today. I’ve been trying to track down A Gentleman in Moscow. For months it was making the rounds at every (small) get-together I attended. But I didn’t grab it because I was certain I’d already read it. Then my daughter got hold of the book and waxed eloquent about the plot, the characters. She went on and on and I suddenly realized, whoops! I HAD NOT read it.

Now it’s nowhere to be found.

Today I targeted the Smile Shop. Ketut drove the bike and his daughter came too, crouched in the space in front of him so he could see over her head. That would never fly in the States, but here, families of five somehow manage to ride together on one motorbike.

Nengah’s eight. I told her to find three things she wanted hoping that would give me sufficient time to scour the shelves for ‘my book’ before she got bored and grumpy. Ketut’s been with me many times and has learned the fine art of digging through the detritus for the diamonds. When I stole a peek he was guiding Nengah though girls’ clothing bins, holding up one item after another for her approval.

He was too efficient. She’d already scored three cute shirts and I was still pawing through dusty tomes.

“Find one more thing, Nengah. And Ketut, don’t you need jeans? Maybe look for jeans!” When I’m on a mission I’m a shameless manipulator.

With feverish intensity I fingered every used book they had, even glanced through the ones written in German thinking my prize could be hidden anywhere. No luck. But tucked on the shelf labeled Science, I found The Calcutta Chromasome by Amitav Ghosh, one of my all-time favorite authors. If you haven’t read The Ibis Trilogy, start there. He’s an exceptional story-teller.

The timing was perfect. Nengah added a pink headband sprouting shiny golden hearts to her stash, Ketut had a pair of barely-worn jeans looped over his arm, and I didn’t find A Gentleman, but I did find my dear old friend Mr. Ghosh.

I’m glad in a way that A Gentleman in Moscow wasn’t there. Sounds silly, but I haven’t spent hours in the Ubud library for months. That gives me a great excuse to peruse their massive Used Books For Sale section and abandon myself to the search again another day.

Back at home, seven juicy carrots waited to be turned into carrot hummus. I’ve grown addicted and panic sets in when the supply runs low. I propped the doors open at either end of the galley kitchen and hummed contentedly as those cooling easterly breezes traveled westerly unhindered. When the carrots, garlic, lime juice, coconut oil, salt and chilis were pureed silky-smooth, I tasted. You’ve watched the restaurant scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally? Uh-huh. It was that good.

Great weather, a successful treasure hunt, perfect carrot hummus…not even the rampaging troop of monkeys that barreled over the roof jostling tiles as I sat down to write, could mess with my peace of mind. And I just checked the weather app – ninety percent chance of rain tomorrow. What luck! A perfect day for reading.

The Minor Frustrations of Everyday Life in a Third-World Country

Sometimes so much happens it’s hard to know which story to tell. I realized as I wrote that sentence that most of the events of the past two weeks can be filed under one heading: Frustration. Does that give me permission to tell all of them? Sure. Why not.

Ketut has been cutting the garden grass on hands and knees with his curved knife for years. The neighbor next door has a weed-whacker. She uses it far too often for about four hours at a crack. During that time you’d swear you were living next to a runway at JFK International.

The noise is the only reason I’ve resisted buying that tool of convenience for Ketut. But lately his back has been bothering him. The last flare-up was three weeks ago. I decided it was time to bite the bullet.

Lazada is Indonesia’s version of Amazon. I searched through pages of weed-whackers, some had murdurously heavy-looking packpacks that feed gas to the machine. Some were electric with long cables. Others ran on batteries, and a scant few were rechargeable.

The rechargable battery-operated ones appealed to me. I compared differing volts, wattages, blades, and reviews in an attempt to educate myself. I finally chose a brand from China that checked all the boxes. I was delighted to see that Lazada would accept my U.S. debit card. I entered it and clicked the BUY button. An email popped up:

WOW! Thank you for your order. Please use the number below for tracking.

I chuckled. Only in Indonesia would they exude such enthusiasm over an online order. It would be delivered within four days. Perfect.

The next morning I found another message from the company.

OH NO! Your order was cancelled because no payment.

Huh? Really? Maybe they wouldn’t accept my card after all. I returned to the Lazada site to re-order the machine with a different method of payment. The process was not user-friendly and after trying for half-an-hour I sent a message to my neighbor:

“If I pay half of whatever your grass cutter cost, and share expenses for maintenance, can Ketut borrow it twice a month?”

The answer was immediate:

“It’s old! You don’t have to pay. Just borrow it when you need it.”

I love my neighbor.

Two days later there was a message from Lazada in my inbox:

HURRAY! Your order has been shipped!

What? Huh! My cancelled order has been shipped? What if I’d reordered…

It arrived on scedule. Of course, it required assembly and of course, the instructions were in Chinese. But Ketut worked his magic and the thing was operational in no time. The big payoff…it whispers!

Fast-forward another week. I ordered a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake for my son-in-law’s birthday from a company called GiftBlooms that I found online. It’s located in a town near their home. I checked my email inbox for confirmation.

Thank you for your order. You will be advised when it goes out for delivery.

Relief washed over me. I’d found a gift I knew he’d enjoy and it was ordered. Check.

The next moring’s inbox showed a message from GiftBlooms.

Your order is on hold. Please click on the link below for more information.

I clicked. In a nutshell, they were concerned that my credit card address (U.S.) didn’t match the location of my order (Indonesia) and they wanted a photo of my credit card. They told me to obscure the last 4 digits and send it in a reply email.

This was a new wrinkle. I’d never had issues with ordering anything in the U.S. But I complied. Within fifteen minutes, GiftBlooms sent another message:

Your order is on hold.

This time they wanted me to take a selfie of me holding the credit card along with a photo I.D. A low simmer started at the base of my skull. I pulled out my driver’s license and…what?! My license expired on my birthday two months ago? I had no idea! The simmer cranked to a low boil. My passport was handy. Holding it and the card next to my face, I tried not to growl as I took the shot.

Ten minutes later the inbox had another message from GiftBlooms.

Your order is on hold.

By now I was chewing tacks and spitting nails.

We have a mirror-image view of your documents. Please lay them flat and take another photo.

What did they expect? Documents will always be a mirror image when photographed beside my face. I’d done what they told me to do and they still weren’t satisfied.

That was the point where I came dangerously close to cancelling the order. Dangerously close. But it was also the point where the whole charade became hilarious. I took the shot, sent it, and held my breath. Ten minutes again and there was GiftBlooms in my inbox.

Order pending.

There were no further instructions. They were probably running my info through the FBI and IRS, just to make sure their cheesecake wasn’t being used to cover up an international money-laundering scheme.

I went to bed. The next morning my stomach did a bit of flamenco when I saw GiftBlooms had reached out to me yet again. I opened the email holding my breath.

Your order will be delivered between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on the date you selected. Thank you for your order.

And so it was that my son-in-law got his Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake right on time. But what a circus!

And then…

Covid vaccinations are being rolled out in Ubud. The pecking order isn’t clear, but people in health care and tourism workers supposedly come first. Then local residents. There was no mention of ex-pats being eligible, but I felt certain we would be.

Then I heard vaccines were available to foreigners with a KTP – the kind of identification card evey Indonesian and a few ex-pats have. I don’t.

Several days passed and I noticed a post on Facebook. Got my vaccine at the wantilan across from Ubud palace. No KTP needed, just a KITAS or KITAP. Go now!

I grabbed my KITAP and hustled down Monkey Forest Road to the roofed platform where they hold special events in Ubud Center. Not a soul. Two taxi drivers were lounging at the curb. I asked them what they knew about the vaccines.

Yesterday finished.

I’d missed it by a day. I asked if they knew where they were giving them now and was told I could come back tomorrow, maybe they would be there again. Somehow I doubted it.

The next morning Facebook had another lead. They were giving vaccines in the Monkey Forest parking lot a few blocks from home. You guessed it. I grabbed my KITAP and trotted over. The two women attending the entrance were the only humans visible. I asked them about the vaccine.

Oh ya. Yesterday they were here.

So yesterday, while I was huffing and puffing my way north toward the palace, mere steps away from home in Monkey Forest parking lot they were doing vaccinations? The women told me I should check at the local Puskesmas clinic. Maybe I could get the vaccine there. I thanked them, gulped down the lump in my throat, and turned back the way I had come.

As I approached the clinic I saw hoards of motorbikes and heard numbers being called. My heart thumped hopefully. Maybe this would be it. After quick stop at the hand santizer station, I proceeded past curious eyes to an information booth. I explained that I have a KITAP and asked if I could get the vaccine here.

What is your dose? You already have first dose?

I said no, I hadn’t had any dose yet.

I’m sorry. Here we do only second dose.

I plodded home nursing a blue mood. Why did it have to be so hard? Later, sitting on the terrace under the bluest sky with a cool breeze licking my skin, Dad’s words echoed in my head. Don’t push the river.

And there it was. I’d done it again. I know with everything in me that when it’s my turn, it’ll be easy. But I’d gotten swept up in the urgent energy of others and momentarily forgot my truth.

These small things – little frustrations – are part of what I love about my life here. Perhaps not in the exact moment I’m experiencing them, but in retrospect they make great stories, and that’s what life’s about – our stories!

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