Mt. Agung – You’re not in Kansas anymore!

 

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I grew up with prairies, forests, and the sky-blue lakes of northern Minnesota. The earth under my feet didn’t move. Ski hills were hills. They didn’t erupt. My nervous system calibrated to this solid certainty and made assumptions.

I’d heard of The Ring of Fire – first when the scratchy voice of Johnny Cash made the song popular – and later when the Science Museum in St. Paul brought the reality of volcanoes and earthquakes to the tundra.

The IMAX film produced by the museum introduced a different world. I watched mountains spewing fire, their molten guts dribbling down like icing on a cake. I remember the shiver of terror and the thought that followed: why would anyone live there? And yet, fascination gripped me. For weeks afterwards I felt a bit off-kilter and walked around humming, “I fell into a burning ring of fire,” under my breath.

Fate takes interesting twists. Was that day a foreshadowing of things to come? Now I live in Indonesia. This nation has the most volcanoes and earthquakes of any other place in the world. I’ve transplanted my Midwestern beliefs about solid ground to a country that shivers and belches daily. What was I thinking?

For the past week, Mt. Agung, 25 miles from my home in Ubud, has been threatening to blow. There’s a side of me that has gone untested until now. I’ve never faced a looming natural disaster. Ever. In northern Minnesota the worst we had were blizzards. Roads closed, 4 – 10 foot snowdrifts piled up, and school was cancelled. Yippeee!

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Waiting on Mt. Agung is different energy. With every tremor, adrenalin floods my system. I have caffeine jitters though I haven’t touched coffee for months. And there’s an overwhelming helplessness that triggers people in different ways. Some get angry. Some rush out to stock up on food, water, flashlights. Some spring into action organizing shelters, collecting donations, working round the clock. Some cry.

I haven’t gotten angry, and I haven’t cried. But I’ve worried, and I’ve haunted the news channels as well as Twitter, Facebook, and the Indonesian government sites that dole out information in careful bites. Through it all, I’ve realized how little I’ve changed. Something in me needs to know, needs to suss out every factoid and warning. In the U.S. we get used to 24/7 reporting when disaster strikes. We expect to be fed a non-stop diet of fear and distress as stories repeat and images burn their indelible imprints on our retinas.

There’s a better way – I’m sure of it – a kinder way. Somewhere between getting ready, and having done everything I can do, there must be a quiet place in the mind to go and wait. There must be an off switch that allows silence from the clamoring voices and peace in the midst of uncertainty. In the interest of self-preservation, I’m determined to get there. The well-being of my Midwestern nervous system depends on it!

 

 

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Dealing with Uncertainty

When I wrote my last post a few days ago, Mt. Agung was still just a stately presence, the highest, holiest mountain in Bali and home to Besakih, the mother temple. Right now, as I keyed in that sentence, another tremor rattled my windows and shook the floor. Holy Mt. Agung is trembling, threatening, poised to erupt – or not.

Not even the most expert of the experts can predict when, or even if an eruption will happen. They cannot foretell the explosive strength if it does blow. But over 50,000 people have been moved out of their homes on the slopes and in surrounding villages because they would not survive if…

I’m in Ubud. We’re told that here we’re far enough away. I think that’s supposed to make us feel better. The streets are teeming with visitors, more people than I’ve ever seen in this town before. They’re shopping, laughing, packing the many restaurants, and going about life as usual.

But I live here, and for me, this is not life as usual. Time hangs between tremors – between news flashes – between numbers, 3 for be careful, 4 for beware. We’re at 4, the highest these warning numbers go. I know many families that aren’t evacuating. Ketut’s is one of them. They live 10 kilometers from Agung. A 7.5 kilometer distance is the mandatory evacuation zone. I worry.

I have never had to psychologically manage such uncertainty before. It’s a helpless feeling. I’m a ‘doer’ and there is nothing I can do to change the situation. I like to imagine that I have control over my environment. I have none. Mother Nature is in charge. Meanwhile, we wait.

 

 

Hiding out in the past

 

I’ve been writing my memoir for three years. It seems like forever until I think about the 67 years it took me to live it.

On Tuesday, September 19th, 2017, at 11:30 p.m. Bali time, after once again reading through the entire 99,327 word manuscript, I deleted an unnecessary adjective on page 181, took a weary breath, and hit send. A kind woman in New York City will take a look at it. She’s been in the publishing industry for a long time. The fate of my labors hangs on her advice.

I didn’t anticipate the feelings that would arise in the absence of that project. I expected relief and little else. There’s been a little relief and a lot else. Every morning for the past three years I’ve awakened knowing I had work to do. September 20th, dawned with an entire day empty. That’s how it felt: empty. The truth is, I’m retired. Every hour is mine to fill or not in any way I choose. But I’d committed the previous thirty-six months to writing, and that gave my life focus. Finished now, at least for the moment, what would I do with all that available time?

Before I could swing my legs over the side of the bed for morning ablutions, a realization hit: I was back in the present. I’d spent three years reliving the past. I don’t mean remembering – remembering is passive. Reliving is active involvement, re-experiencing, re-feeling, bringing up old emotions to craft into words so future readers can connect with something real. Sending the manuscript on its way detached me from that former time and catapulted me into the present.

A huge portion of mental real estate was wiped clean. My mind, scrubbed and shiny, felt new. The sensation expanded throughout my body. It made sense. The tens of thousands of words I’d dredged up to tell my story had been at the expense of every nerve and cell where traumas were stored. My entire being had existed in the past for the duration of the writing, and now I was free.

The present is a new experience, and I’m not yet altogether comfortable with it. Although much of the past was unpleasant, it was familiar. I could always duck into it, hide for days believing that I was working – writing – which I was. I was also healing. Mucking around in those stories, retelling them, gave me the opportunity to see things in a different light. In so doing, wounds healed. But at the same time, I was stuck there, using the past as a buffer to cushion myself from – from what?

From getting old. Yes. From the very real, very present evidence of encroaching old age. To be fully present means accepting who I am now. I’ve heard many mature adults say that inside they still feel sixteen, or twenty-five. I used to say the same. But writing the memoir has brought me current. I’ve lived those years, twice. I’ve learned the lessons, finally, and have earned the earmarks of the elder: sags, wrinkles, and wisdom, one would hope!

There have been other shifts like this, seismic upheavals that heralded a new way of being, and all have come through writing. It’s a profound tool for self-discovery, and writing memoir is the ultimate challenge. For me, reliving my life through memoir accomplished what the first incarnation hadn’t: I grew up. But I’m not so adult as to pass on a pair of totally outrageous earrings at the Smile Shop – aren’t they great?!

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The Next Best Thing to the Fountain of Youth…Yoga?

Quality of life is important to me. Nothing can be taken for granted as I age. Achy stiff joints, decreasing mobility, loss of strength, and a depressed attitude cramp my style. I happen to like my style very much and I don’t want it cramped!

Yoga was not love at first Uttanasana. I was in my fifties when my daughter cajoled me into attending a class. I pulled out a pair of ancient leggings and a tee-shirt I’d never wear anywhere else and trotted along. Of course with the kind of competitive spirit I possess, I threw myself into it that day, determined to keep up with the much younger crowd. It was a struggle. Even the Sanskrit words the instructor used to name the positions conspired to confuse me. The next morning every muscle screamed revenge. But my daughter’s enthusiasm was impossible to resist and after a while the poses became familiar. When I no longer had to concentrate so hard to keep up, I enjoyed the feeling of well-being that followed an hour on the mat. But I wasn’t dedicated. Months slipped by without so much as a downward dog.

Big changes took place as I launched into the sixth decade of life. I looked and felt older. Once it began, it was appalling how quickly wrinkles appeared, skin lost elasticity, and a roll of flesh settled on top of my hips. In addition to that, I didn’t have the flexibility I’d once had. My joints ached.

Then a younger friend died suddenly.

It was a painful reminder that I didn’t have forever. I recommitted to yoga and had a personal routine designed for me. Now there was no excuse. I didn’t need to go to a studio or enroll in classes. Everything could be done in the comfort and privacy of my own home whenever it suited me. I began to practice with dogged persistence and the results in my psyche were immediate. There was a sense of well-being and relief knowing that I was doing myself a great kindness.

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Photo from a post in January 2014: Monsoon Yoga on the yoga platform in the old house

Over time, the changes in my body were even more pronounced. I lost the fat around my belly and muscle appeared. My hamstrings stretched and I could balance on one leg forever if I wanted to. Even though I could see and feel the benefits, every day was an exercise in willpower. I’d bargain with myself: you walked three miles yesterday so you can take today off.

And then I got sick. For two months I couldn’t have dragged myself to the mat if I’d wanted to.

When I finally felt able to attempt the routine again, I was shaky and winded within minutes. It scared me how frail I’d become. But something had shifted. In spite of weakness and the physical effort required, each morning I awoke eager to practice. It felt like a gift. I knew that every day I could do yoga was a day of health and I didn’t want to miss it. With gratitude infusing my movements, it became far more than a physical workout. Time elongated, I disengaged from thought and entered a meditative state more in keeping with the spiritual roots of this ancient art.

Yoga in the new house: August 13, 2017

Now I’m 67, well past the stage where being lazy about self-care is an option. I’ll do my routine daily for as many more years as I can. When my body is unable to withstand the rigors of sun salutations and warrior poses, there are other options. Gentle yoga is one of them. I’ve heard the excuses people use: bum knees, weak wrists, bad back. If we do what our bodies will allow us to do, strengthen those parts that we can improve, we’ll be so much better off than if we do nothing.

Some things are so easy…some aren’t.

For instance, shopping is easy. Ketut and Wayan do it for me at the traditional market every  morning. Laundry is easy. I put it in a bag and it comes back clean and ironed, even the washclothes! Cooking: I don’t have to if I don’t want to. Cleaning is done for me. You could say I’m spoiled rotten, and you’d be right. But it is Indonesian law for ex-pats living here. We must employ at least one local person full time as domestic help.

Getting around is easy. I’m within walking distance of everything I need or want: Angelos Shop where I buy all-natural lotions and body creams; Bali Buda Bakery for the best sourdough bread you’ve ever tasted (get there before 10 a.m. because they sell out); Eve’s Spa for pedicures; (Wayan from Angga Sarira Spa comes here with her magic hands for my massages); El Mexicano for killer nachoes; Mama Mia’s for homemade limoncello; and Rai Pasti Tailor for exquisite new clothes.  I walk to writers’ group meetings once a week. It’s about three miles round trip and there’s a wicked hill, but the aerobic workout keeps my heart beating. When something sends me further afield I have the back of Ketut’s motorbike. In a downpour I go with Kadek by car, or stay home.

Writing is easy. There’s inspiration and support all around me. Ubud Writers Festival is a yearly event that brings authors from many countries to our little hamlet. It’s five days of full-on festivities for all who love words: readers, writers, speakers, and listeners. And it’s a phenomenal opportunity for volunteers who are given a pass to the main events for helping out. I did that for my first three years here and met people from all over the world who had also donated their time. And then there are my friends in the writers’ group. Much more than just my writing has benefited from those relationships.

But the things that aren’t so easy? They’re like my shadow side, the part that challenges and keeps life interesting. Yesterday, for instance, I made a trip to Denpasar, Bali’s capital city, for an eye test. My problem wasn’t vision. I needed the test in order to renew my Minnesota Drivers License. There are scores of little shops in Ubud that test visual acuity, the exam that determines how close you are to 20/20. But to satisfy the State of Minnesota, I also needed a peripheral vision test. The locals I asked looked at me like I’d suggested they rob a bank. “Cannot! Not in Bali. Maybe Jakarta.”

I wrote a nice letter to the head of the Department of Motor Vehicles relating my dilemma. They gave me an extra six months to complete the test. Six months later I got the warning email. If I didn’t submit results of my peripheral vision test by August 3, my license would be cancelled. What to do? Make a special trip back to the States for an eye test? That’s one expensive exam! Let my license lapse? After all, I don’t drive in Bali, but I do want the option when I’m in the U.S.

On a visit to Dr. Krishna at Ubud Care Clinic for a routine check-up, I mentioned in passing my distress at not being able to get the necessary eye test. “Oh Ibu! There is such a machine. But the only one in Bali is at Sanglah, the teaching hospital in Denpasar. I think you must go there.”

“Really? Are you sure it measures peripheral vision? Nobody else knows it’s there.” He looked mildly offended but assured me that indeed it existed. I called Sanglah Hospital as soon as I got home and he was right. I didn’t need an appointment but could come on Monday between 8 a.m. and noon for an exam. “The eye clinic is in the Amertha Wing,” she said. “You can go directly there.”

At 7:30 Monday morning Ketut saddled up the motorbike and I climbed on behind him. At 8:45 we arrived but we weren’t the first.

mmBless Ketut. Really. He’d been to Sanglah before when his cousin broke her leg and knew the drill. If we wanted to use my Indonesian insurance we would have to take a number. I told him it was just a small exam and I would pay. But Ketut is frugal. “Wait a moment,” he said, and darted between the masses of bodies.

I had a chance to look around the lobby. People waited in lines that snaked to a bank of small windows. Others sat in the few chairs, on the floor, or stood leaning against walls. Several people lay on gurneys. They were attended by family members and appeared very ill. I began to wish I was wearing a surgical mask. It was a space that very closely resembled the parking lot, but bodies had replaced motorbikes.

Ketut was back. “Must use that window,” he said. We joined the outskirts of a ragged throng. After standing there for about 3 1/2 minutes, he looked at my number and looked at the much lower numbers of the people around us. “Maybe not use insurance. Maybe pay private. A little more quick.”

“Great idea,” I said and we beat it outside into the sunshine. A request for directions to Amertha Wing took us ambling across the hospital campus to a cluster of buildings on the far side. While we walked I asked Ketut about people who came in an ambulance and had an emergency. Did they, too, have to take a number and wait? He reassured me that was different. Those people went to a special place. I’d noticed as we’d exited that forlorn lobby, an ambulance had pulled up and hospital attendants had extracted a woman on a stretcher. I wondered if Ketut had told me the truth or what he thought I needed to hear. I decided not to ask.

The Amertha Wing was far less populated. People looked prosperous and healthy with the exception of one child whose oozing red eyeball made my stomach lurch. The number on the desk counter said 20. Ketut pulled a ticket. It was 21. I did a happy dance.

It still took a good while to gain access to the doctor, but when I did, he studied my Minnesota Drivers License Renewal form for a long time. I told him all I needed was the peripheral vision test. I’d had the visual acuity test in Ubud and I showed him the results. He nodded and continued studying the form. He told me where to sit and motioned to his assistant. The visual acuity test commenced. “But, but…” I stammered. “Peripheral vision test?”

“Yes, later. Not here,” he said, and I shut up. The procedure completed, the doctor filled out the visual acuity section of the new form. 20/20, no need for corrective lenses. “Now you will follow her,” he indicated the woman who had just finished testing me and off we went, back across the campus and back into that congested lobby. But this time we bypassed the masses and took the elevator to second floor. At the end of a maze of hallways lined with people waiting, we arrived at an open door with a sign above: Glaucoma.

“Wait a moment,” our guide said. I glanced into the room. There were four uniformed hospital staff and two desks in a space smaller than a king size bed. She handed one of them my information, turned back to me and repeated, “Wait a moment.” After a few minutes I was invited to join the four others in that tiny space. Upon entering, as though synchronized they all pointed to a doorway on my right. There, in a dark cubical the size of a refrigerator, was THE MACHINE.

I remember taking a peripheral vision test at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Minneapolis once-upon-a-time. It took five minutes total. Maybe this machine was old, maybe I’m old, but the test took 10 minutes 21 seconds for one eye and 11 minutes 9 seconds for the other eye. All that time I was staring at an orange dot while pinpoints of light sparked on and off at random places on the screen and I pushed a button each time I saw a glow.

With watery, stinging eyeballs I stumbled out of the chamber only to see that the first doctor had made the journey across campus to join us in that cramped office. He took the chair behind one desk and a backless, blue plastic stool was pulled up for me. It was time to fill out that most important part of the form: the degree of angle for each eye and the total angle of the eyes when used together.

The form, of course, was in English. The doctors in the room spoke Indonesian, English was their second, third, or maybe fourth language. As I listened to their concerned debate on how best to answer the questions, I was struck anew at the attention I was being given, the time being taken, the respect shown for something as inane as a vision test for a drivers license. I wasn’t suffering symptoms of glaucoma. My vision was near perfect, yet here I was being helped with the same degree of care as someone in danger of losing their sight.

Consensus was reached, the form was completed, signed, dated, and officially stamped. “Now you go back to Amertha Wing for your Sanglah card and you will pay there,” the original doctor said, then knitted his brows. “Why do you need a test like this to drive?” I’d been wondering the same thing.

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I shrugged and shook my head. “America,” I said. He smiled and nodded then indicated that Ketut and I would have an escort back to the Amertha Wing. It was now 3 hours since we’d arrived and it was our 4th trip across the campus at Sanglah.

I approached the desk. “You are Missus Bronson?”

“Yes.”

“Please wait a moment.” Of course. What else was there to do? When the bill was presented, it was $21 U.S.

“For everything?” I asked. The answer was affirmative.

Half an hour later we were back on the motorbike, peeling out of Denpasar as fast as the cremation parade would allow. Which means we were at a dead stop. It was the Sanglah parking lot all over again, but this time we were in the middle of one of Denpasar’s main streets.

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Traffic at 7:30 that morning had been sparse and we’d made excellent time. The trip back was a different story. But that’s why I love the motorbike. Sometimes we passed cars stopped for miles in both directions by cruising the white line down the middle. Sometimes we were up on the sidewalk, dodging pedestrians, avoiding the stagnated traffic on the street. Sometimes it was an in-and-out-zig-zag if there was enough room between front bumpers and back fenders.

Home at last, I scanned my precious eye exam document, attached the pdf to an email, and sent it rocketing across cyberspace to my daughter in Minneapolis. She messaged a few hours later to say she’d copied it and posted it next-day mail. The Minnesota Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t accept emails.

That’s what I mean. Some things aren’t so easy. But those are the very things that make good stories, and I do love a good story!

 

 

My Bali Ex-Pat Life – Shopping Adventure

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There are essentials and then there are things we want. I wanted a yogurt maker.

First of all, the machine would support the eating habits I’ve embraced as I age. Healthy food is more important now that I can’t take my body for granted. It complains loud and long if I violate its delicate balance with things like coffee, sugar, gluten, dairy, and dairy was the culprit I intended to sabotage with the yogurt maker. My friend uses coconut milk. I love the taste of coconut; can’t get enough.

Second, it was cute. The little machine had attitude and I wanted it sitting on my kitchen counter. I have very few such accessories and I took an immediate fancy to the cheeky squat appliance.

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A search of the three supermarkets in Ubud turned up scores of rice cookers, blenders, and a lone waffle iron, but no yogurt maker. I complained to my friend who had brought hers from Australia. That afternoon she sent an email with a link to the Lazada online shopping site. She’d found one. It was exactly what I wanted for $34.50, shipping included.

Even though the ordering instructions were in Indonesian, I was 85% sure I knew what I was doing. There were blanks for various addresses. I assumed one was the person ordering, one was ship to, and the third said international. Which of them would be matched to my credit card, I wondered? I entered all three and hit the pay button. The Visa that I use to buy airline tickets never fails. But this time, DECLINED appeared in red letters. I tried the debit card that connects to my checking account in the U.S. DECLINED. Then the Amazon card, DECLINED. Apparently Lazada did not like American credit cards. So now what? There was a bank transfer option. I pulled up my Indonesian bank account and hit the button to Transfer Money. A message flashed: You must have a token to complete this transaction. Please see teller. By then the page had expired. At this point I began to take exception to their advertising tagline:
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Mild frustration set in but I really wanted that yogurt maker so I repeated the laborious task and placed my order once again. This time I chose PAY ON DELIVERY. The reply was instant and clear: This option is not available in your area. Right. There were other icons in the payment window that meant nothing to me.

Desperate and a little angry, I messaged my friend. How do you pay for your Lazada orders? I’ve tried credit card, bank transfer, and pay on delivery. Nothing works! She called me.

“I pay at Indomaret.”

“You just walk up to the counter and say, ‘I want to pay for my yogurt maker?'”

“Yup! Be sure to take your customer number and order number and the cash with you!”

“Seriously? I can pay at the convenience store?”

“I do it all the time.”

I’d run out of steam. The next morning, refreshed, I faithfully returned to the website. Back to square one, I re-entered my order, clicked the Indomaret icon, and got an instant email with my customer number, order number and amount. Good for 24 hours, it said. I carefully copied the information on a sheet of paper, enclosed my payment, and set out for the Indomaret convenience store a few blocks north of me. I walked and walked, scouring both sides of the street. There were Deltas, Circle K’s, Mini Marts, but no Indomaret. Where was it? I knew I’d seen that sign.

Hungry, I stopped at a familiar restaurant and wailed the story to Iluh, my favorite server, “Oh Ibu,” she laughed. “That Indomaret already gone two years ago! Now must go to only one in Sanggingan.”

Have I mentioned that I really wanted that yogurt maker? After lunch I hiked the extra mile up the hill to Sanggingan and there it was: Indomaret. I approached the cashier.

“I would like to pay for my Lazada order,” I said, and slid the paper toward her. She entered the letter/number combinations.

“What’s this?” She pointed to a V that might have been a Y.

“Yay,” I said. That’s the pronunciation for Y in the Indonesian alphabet. She keyed in a bit more information and clicked her maroon fingernails on the counter while people queued behind me. Finally she looked up and smiled.

“Sorry, expired.” I wanted to tell her it couldn’t be, that I’d just placed the order that morning and it said I had 24 hours. Instead I thanked her and got out of the way. In a deserted corner of the shop I found the order confirmation on my cell. The letter was V. I got back in line and when my turn came I handed the phone to her.

“I’m sorry. This is the information. Could you please try again?” That time, glory hallelujah, it worked! My phone bleeped. The email said my Lazada order for one yogurt maker had been received and it would be delivered between 22 and 27 July.

That’s why I love my ex-pat life. I can never take things for granted. If I fall into that dangerous frame of mind, something like this comes along to snap me out of it. Who would have thought that ordering a yogurt maker would prove such an adventure?

One-Month-Seven-Day Cleanse

This is why I can never leave Bali. She curls her green tendrils through my mind, whispers secrets in my ears. She tests my patience and challenges my strange Western ways. Our differences fascinate me and she’s generous with opportunities to explore them. So when Wayan invited me to her baby’s one-month-seven-day ceremony, there was no question I would attend.

I was present when Ketut’s daughter, Nengah, had her three-month-feet-can-now-touch-the-ground celebration. That was an eye-opener! But this ceremony comes earlier. Wayan explained that forty-two days after her son was born, Hindu tradition dictates they must summon a holy man to cleanse both her and the baby. (Note that a month on the Balinese calendar is 35 days plus 7 equals 42!)

When I arrived at their home on the back of Ketut’s motorbike, they had just entered the family temple.

Aunties, uncles, and friends gathered while incense swirled from offerings to both benign and dark spirits and the holy man rang his bell chanting prayers.

It wasn’t until the priest prayed blessing and sprinkled holy water over the family, that I noticed the chickens. Arya, their older son, held two young birds that appeared to be wearing miniature sarongs. Were they his pets, I wondered, thinking it strange that pet chickens would be allowed at such a holy moment.

Later, over a heaping plate of suckling pig, chicken betutu, and stewed jackfruit, yet another facet of Balinese Hindu tradition was imparted to me by Komang, the children’s father.

According to him, during gestation the placenta is considered the baby’s brother. It nurtures, nourishes, and protects the infant prior to birth. Now that the baby was born and the afterbirth buried with another sacred rite of it’s own, a symbolic replacement of the in utero sibling in the form of two chickens was necessary; a brother and a sister perhaps? Or did they symbolize the dual spirit realms: malignant and benign? I’ve heard different stories from different villages. They all have their own interpretation of this Macolongan Ceremony.

When I quizzed Ketut for details I found there was more to the story. “You must first talk about Upacara Magedong-gedongan,” he said, letting the words roll out of his mouth like slippery marbles. When I tried to repeat it my tongue flapped helplessly.

“Upacara ma-ma-ma…?” Pathetic, I know.

“Seven month ceremony before the baby comes,” he said. That I could repeat. “But in my village we do not do this ceremony. What if the baby dies? No good. So we wait until baby three month ceremony and then we do everything already not done.”

“So in your village you don’t have a one-month-seven-day…,” he didn’t let me finish.

“Oh, must do that one! Baby and mother cannot go into temple until that ceremony finished. Must first make clean. Long time ago father cannot go into temple also. But what if many babies are born? Nobody to work in the temple! So that rule must be changed. Now only mother and baby cannot.”

Curiosity wasn’t satisfied. “Why forty-two days, Ketut? Why that long?”

“Because until then baby is only blood and skin. Now bones too. More strong.”

This is how it goes, sometimes for hours when I’m gleaning tidbits of village lore from Ketut. Bit by bit a convoluted picture emerges that may or may not be accurate. But it’s close, as close as a foreigner can get to the mysteries of animistic Hinduism practiced here.

For me, the afternoon was perfect. I met Wayan over seven years ago and now she is like a bossy younger sister! Komang, her husband, a charming host with impeccable English, pointed out that he and I were both wearing orange shirts and purplish-pink sarongs! Only in Bali!

We laughed a lot. Jokes are a way of life here and it’s good for the soul to be on the receiving end of Balinese humor. Not only that, I got my ‘baby fix!’ Tiny Komang Junior gave me a high five and let me cuddle him without a peep. Thank you Wayan and Komang. May you and your family be blessed with long life and happiness. Om swastiastu.

Part-Time Vegetarian Seeks Meat

Forever I had assumed you either were or you weren’t…vegetarian. I was, with the exception of eggs, fish, and dairy. I got along quite well for about five years, but then noticed a decline in energy. I woke up tired and took naps in the middle of the day. I had to force myself to do yoga and get out of the house for a walk.

About that time I visited family in the U.S. My girls and their guys are meat eaters. While I was with them I decided not to rattle the cage. When in Rome, you know. So I ate grilled steak, barbecued chicken, burgers, and hot dogs. When I returned to Bali it was evident something had changed. I no longer needed naps. I jumped out of bed at rooster’s crow and went full speed until dark. There was only one explanation: meat.

The change was so dramatic I vowed to continue to include animal protein in my diet. Perhaps I had veggied myself into ‘iron poor blood,’ a phrase from a 1960’s TV commercial. In Bali, my meals consisted of fruits, vegetables, eggs, tofu and tempe, with an occasional Lake Batur fish thrown in. I’d supplemented with Bali coffee and kue, local empty calorie treats void of nourishment.

Image result for pre packaged rotisserie chickenKetut buys all my food at the local market. When he saw grilled chicken on the grocery list he asked, “How much you want? One-quarter? One-half?”I told him I wanted one whole chicken picturing the neatly packaged birds that turn on spits in U.S. supermarkets, their grease dripping into the pan below. “Ok,” he said.

The next morning he delivered everything I’d ordered, dragon fruit, apples, broccoli, shallots, garlic, lemongrass, and something ominous in a plastic bag. I was Skyping so he deposited the food on the counter and left. It’s always a high when I talk to family. I finished the call humming a Bob Marley tune as I tucked the produce in the fridge. I’ll admit, I’d forgotten about the chicken, but there was no mistaking what peeked through the translucence of the bag. I reached for a plate and extracted the contents.

Where was the neat container? And why did the creature still look like what it was, head and feet intact? The reality of ‘meat’ sank in. This wasn’t some mystery food that came antiseptically shrink-wrapped, sanitized and anonymous. This was unmistakably the charred remains of a fowl that yesterday had feathers – and life.

I stood in my pristine kitchen with chemically enhanced hair and painted nails, gawking at a reminder of a different reality. Living in Bali I’d rubbed up against it many times, but now it jarred. I knew too much. I’d been to the villages. I’d watched, unflinching, as chickens were slaughtered, drained, skewered, and readied for the fire.

But none of them had ever lain spreadeagled on my counter top.

The initial slam of shock passed. The smokey-rich odor emanating from the bird hit my empty stomach and saliva drooled into my mouth. Without further ado, manicured fingernails separated a leg from the body, foot and all. I took a bite. Mmmm. This chicken had spent it’s life unrestrained, scratching dirt, eating bugs, and dodging motorbikes in the road. The meat was firm, the flavor: strong, wild, and nothing genetically enhancing had gotten within a hundred miles of it’s muscular body. This was as naturally, locally raised, free-ranging, certified organic, GMO, pesticide, chemical and antibiotic free as it gets.

I chewed long, reflecting on the gift of food like this, savoring it.

My intention is to eat meat. In the process a life is taken. I don’t want to lose sight of the sacredness of that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Retail (and) Therapy at 30,000 Feet

It was somewhere between Qatar and Bali. We’d been in the air for hours and most of the seats held what looked like mummified remains. I’d finished my third movie of the flight and got up to take a bathroom break. Wobbling forward in the semi-darkness, I tried not to bump body parts that protruded into the aisle.

In the unfortunate feng shui of airplane design, the kitchen sat directly opposite the restrooms. A cluster of flight attendants huddled over the counter in that narrow galley. Behind them, a woman in passenger clothes engaged me.

“I’m selling jewelry, silver from Bolivia, $10 each piece. Go ahead, take a look.”

I’d already traveled New York to Qatar, over 14 hours, and had a 2 hour layover in Doha. By this time we were 6 hours into the last leg. But the words: silver, and jewelry, as cross-eyed and exhausted as I was, could raise me from the dead. I burrowed into the group, and there, gleaming in the center of the cases of rings and bracelets was the elephant, Ganesha. My hand shot out, grabbed the ring and slipped it on. It fit as though the designer had used my finger to form it.

The fact is, I’d been hunting Ganesha for months. Every third shop in Ubud sells handcrafted silver jewelry and I’d browsed them all to no avail. I shoved the ring at the woman, mumbled that I’d get the money, and scurried back to my seat taking out a flopping head and a dangling hand on the way.  My purse held only one bill, a $10. I fished it out and hurried back, thrust it at her, and took my ring. The toilet was unoccupied. I locked myself in and giggled, shaking my head at the ludicrous synchronicity of it all.

Fast forward to yesterday. I visited a professional Tarot reader for the first time ever. I’d heard good things about Novi so a friend and I went to check her out. She was goose-bumpy good! But when she asked me if I knew why I was wearing a Ganesha ring I said, “Because he’s the remover of obstacles.”

“Not only remove the obstacles,” she quickly cut in. “Ganesha god is still 7 years old. That is why Ganesha energy is funny: I want to go here, I want to go there, I am so happy, I want to break the rules.” I chuckled as she spoke, but she wasn’t finished. “That’s still in you, but repressed. That’s why in the subconscious there is a desire to be joyful like a seven-year-old. That is why in the subconscious you searched for a Ganesha ring and found it on the airplane; because the joy of a child is missing.”

That hit me like a bullet to the heart. Here in Bali there is mischief and play. My Balinese friends enjoy nothing more than teasing. I’ve learned how to roll with it, but I know myself and she’s right. There’s still the reserve, the serious adult moderating the scene, not wanting to appear silly or, heaven forbid, childish.

Her instructions were clear: You are to dance, and sing, and remember what you loved to do before you were five, remember what you wanted to do when you were 8 but didn’t. It’s time to finish the dream.

Novi’s reading turned me inside-out. She knew things, saw things, and instructed her remedies in forceful kindness. In my mind I resisted but in my gut I knew she spoke the truth. It’s a good thing I recorded the session. Her wisdom spilled like a gushing fire hydrant and by the time she’d finished I couldn’t remember three-fourths of what she’d said. I came home, listened again, and wrote down everything word-for-word. She told me that 2017 is a personal year for me. No doubt it will take at least that long to work out all the warts she exposed.

It was a valuable lesson. I’d become complaisant, almost smug, thinking I’d pretty much nailed my issues and it was clear sailing ahead. Novi brought me down to earth. It’s never the end. The subconscious has stores of old stuff that can trip us up if it stays buried in the dark. The work of self-discovery is on-going and it is by far the most rewarding endeavor we can undertake, not just for ourselves, but for the important others in our lives.

Have you ever sought out other sources of information, an astrologer, numerologist, Tarot reader, etc.?

If yes, I’d love to hear your experience.

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SPIRIT GUIDE, TOTEM ANIMAL, OR JUST A PRETTY BIRD?

 

I glanced in the window. Stopped dead in my tracks. Backed up. Stared. I’d passed this shop dozens of times; had even gone inside once. But the bird on display was new.

The color caught my attention. It was the identical shade of my Bali Blue Bed. I never liked blue until that bed, handmade and painted by Ketut’s father for his family of nine children, became my prized possession. Then it had to be THAT blue. This bird was THAT blue.

The size was good, too. It was big. For some reason, probably hearkening back to childhood when I had to dust every small knick-knack and treasure my mother collected over the years, l preferred large accessories.

My delight ended there. The design of the bird didn’t appeal to me. It wasn’t a noble Garuda, the heraldic national emblem of Indonesia. Its beak was too long, its wings too short, and the tail was so flamboyant as to be an embarrassment to the humble creature. I shrugged and walked on.

A few days later I was in the vicinity of the shop. The color grabbed me again and I stood transfixed. What was it about that ungainly thing? The fact that it was blue and big wasn’t enough. It was unsophisticated, provincial, not my style. The word folksy came to mind.

I couldn’t exactly say when I became obsessed, when I began to want the bird. Was it the fifth time I stopped at its window? The tenth? On that day, I went into the shop to ask the price. It wasn’t shocking. Or was it? Was the color really right? Was there a chip in the paint under its wing? By the time I left I’d talked myself out of wanting it. Almost.

A couple of weeks went by. I was distracted and had no cause to be in the neighborhood of the shop. Then, in a flurry of rearranging things in my house, I moved a lamp. In the now empty space on top of the bookshelf I saw the bird. It was the perfect spot, the exact amount of room needed to exhibit him to full advantage.

I couldn’t get to the little store fast enough. I burst through the door and caught a flash of color on a high shelf. It was my bird with different plumage: electric green, and touches of THAT blue. My fickle heart fell instantly in love.

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At home I unwrapped my prize and set it carefully in place. About that time, Ketut appeared.

“Heron,” he said. “Bad design.”

As soon as he named it, I saw the likeness. Of course it was a heron. They were everywhere in Bali and the craftsmen here carve what they know. He reached up and I saw what he saw. There was a gap where the tail joined the body.

Ketut disappeared and came back with a drill.

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“Ummmm, are you sure, Ketut?” I had to bite my tongue and sit on my hands to keep from stopping him. Where was my faith? But leave it to the son of a woodcarver to know what to do. In the capable hands of Ketut, my bird was made perfect.

The story could have ended there. But this is Bali. Instinct told me there was more to Mr. Heron than just a pretty bird. The fact that at first he hadn’t appealed to me at all, and later was the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid eyes upon, defied logic. Most things magical aren’t logical, and Bali is an island steeped in magic. So I googled: totem animal heron. Laughter, then tears, followed the tingling, goosebumby sensation that accompanies a touch from beyond. This is what I read:

If Heron is your Animal Totem

You love to explore various activities and dimensions of Earth life. On the surface, this may seem like a form of dabbling, but more than likely you are wonderfully successful at being a traditional Jack-of-all-trades.

This ability enables you to follow your own path. Most people will never quite understand the way you live because on the surface it seems to be unstructured without stability or security to it. It is, though, just a matter of perspective. There is security underneath it all, for it gives you the freedom to do a variety of tasks. If one way does not work, then another will. This is something you seem to inherently know.

You do not seem to need a lot of people in your life, nor do you feel pressured to keep up with the material world, or to be traditional in your life roles. You stand out in your uniqueness, and you know how to snatch and take advantage of things and events that the average person would not even bother with.

Anyone who knows me must agree that the description could hardly be more perfect.

Years ago I learned about totem animals and have often wondered if I had one. There are online questionnaires that profess to establish your totem by the answers you give. I did a couple and never felt a connection with the results.

But the heron knew, didn’t he.

 

 

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