Pandemic life in Bali eighteen months and counting

We’ve logged eighteen months of Covid in Bali. Nobody thought it would last this long. Nobody had a clue how devastating it would be to the economy, to morale, to human life. I wish I could say we’re learning to live with it. We’re not. There’s still a never-never-land hope that soon tourists will return. Soon everything will be like it was before. Soon.

Soon was supposed to be June, 2020. That was scrapped and moved to August 2020. Each new date set for the reopening of international tourism was exchanged for a later one. The most recent was this month, September 2021. We all knew it wouldn’t happen as the Delta variant bore down on Indonesia making it the world epicenter for the virus.

I hate to preach doom and gloom, but the only upside I can see to this prolonged slog through hell is a return to the land for those who didn’t sell out to the highest bidder. Paddies, neglected for years while their owners taxied foreigners to and from the airport, guided tours, sold sarongs, or opened cafes, are being tended again.

Fireflies haven’t returned yet but birds and butterflies have. Roads aren’t clogged with trucks belching black fumes, and there are no drones, helicopters, or planes disturbing the peaceful sky. Only kites. Hundreds of them pirouette on unseen currents high above. These photos are from the annual Kite Festival in Sanur, Bali. This year it didn’t happen, of course.

When there’s no work there’s an abundance of time – time enough to go fly a kite.

For many Balinese, however, there isn’t enough money to buy food, and the lack of funds affects the animal population as well. This article, Bali’s tourist drought sees hundreds of hungry monkeys raiding homes, hit international news today. These are the monkeys that visit me. They never used to leave the Sacred Monkey Forest which is a quarter mile from my home. But now they have no food and no tourists to entertain them. They’re bored, hungry, and they’re multiplying at an astonishing rate. (Nothing else to do, may as well make love.)

The longer the situation persists, the more aggressive they become. They use my roof to stage their battles. I wake up at dawn to the sound of snarling monkeys waging war as clay roof tiles crash to the ground. If Ketut isn’t here to do immediate repairs, I know the next rain will pour through the ceiling wreaking unspeakable damage.

I captured a photo of this guy coming toward my upstairs landing across the old roof.

Hoards of roving monkeys, thirty to fifty at a time, appear multiple times a day every day. Whatever isn’t behind closed doors is fair game, a plate of fruit, a bottle of water, a bouquet of flowers. They’re looking for something – anything – to eat.

Their petty thievery was manageable, but the roof issue was not.

Ketut and I engaged in endless conversations attempting to arrive at a solution to the problem. The situation was dire. I had to replace the fragile tiles with something monkey-proof.

Last week we found the answer. Genteng pasir. Literally translated that’s sand tiles, a pressed metal shingle coated with a gritty substance and painted the color of a traditional roof. The look was perfect and the price was right.

Ketut lined up a team, placed orders for shingles, nails, lumber, and cement, and work began. First, the old tiles came off.

The three-man crew worked, ate, and slept here, on site. They began at 8:00 a.m. and stopped at 6:30 p.m. when the sun went down. We provided their meals, coffee, and beds.

Ketut was the busiest of all, running to get take out food three times a day, making coffee, keeping the necessary building supplies on hand. Food, coffee, and snacks were all part of the package to ensure that the guys stayed well-nourished and happy.

They worked seven full days, non-stop, and did a stellar job.

Isn’t that a splendid sight?

I didn’t realize how on-edge I was. Even now, three days later, I find myself stiffening with a lump of dread in my stomach when I hear the beasts coming. Then I remember, oh! My roof is monkey-proof. I can relax.

Just in time.

Rainy season approaches and there’s nothing as important as an intact roof when tropical storms shed their pent-up tears in torrents – gallons per second!

It doesn’t solve the greater problem. The economy is worse than ever. People and monkeys are still hungry. I’m acutely aware of my privilege as a foreigner living here. Because I’m a long-term expat with the necessary documentation, I was given my vaccinations free, same as the locals. I follow government protocol to the letter, grateful for the measures they’re taking to end this plague so living can find its rhythm and a better life for all can begin.

Soon. Hopefully, soon.

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

It all began the day before…

We set off around 8:30 a.m. for Sanur. The excitement that pumped through my veins would soon be joined by the second dose of the AstraZeneca cocktail. I’d waited three months for this moment.

When we arrived, even at that early hour, we weren’t alone. This is one-quarter of the motorbike parking area. “Lots of people,” Ketut said. “We may have to wait a long time.”

The staff at Bali Mandara have their gig down. My blood pressure and temperature were taken in one room. I was ushered into another cubicle for the prick. The whole thing was over in twenty minutes and we were on our way home.

I had no reaction at all to the first jab, so when I awoke for toilet visitation at 4 a.m. the next morning, I expected nothing out of the ordinary. I sat up. The room did a somersault and two spins as a black curtain descended over my consciousness. I slowly, carefully, lay back down.

WTF was that?!

I breathed deep to calm myself but my heart had a new dance step, an awkward thump and flutter that did nothing to ease my spiraling fear. With intense concentration and a level of willpower I didn’t know I had, I made it to the bathroom and back to bed. Then slept.

When I awoke again two hours later, the barest movement of my head brought whirling nausea. It had gotten worse.

Breathe, Sherry. Don’t panic. Breathe…

At times like these, which are extremely rare and always seem to happen when Ketut has gone to his village for a few days, I debate with myself. Should I call someone? The doors are locked. I can’t get up to unlock them. Maybe just let a friend know that I’m feeling unwell. What if I become completely compromised and someone needs access to my bank account? Better send the pin number to Ketut, just in case. No, then he’ll worry and won’t want to get his second dose…

Sleep overtook my internal narrative.

The next time I woke up I had a plan. Inch by inch, with long rests in-between, I would scooch myself up the curved arm of my bed until I was sitting upright.

I scooched the first inch.

The room’s rock-n-roll started but I stared at my tented knees as though they were the key to salvation – and it seems they were. The room settled.

I scooched the second inch staring at my knees.

The third.

The fourth.

At the fifth scooch my head cleared the arm of the bed. I clasped my hands behind my neck to fool my body into thinking my head was still supported by the pillow.

The sixth, the seventh, the eighth – I was sitting. So I sat. Waiting to stabilize. Hopeful.

My phone was within reach. I googled side effects of 2nd dose AstraZeneca. Dizziness and irregular heartbeat were not on the list. But farther down, where it said If you experience these symptoms, call your doctor immediately, there it was: dizziness and weakness. That didn’t make me feel better, but it did motivate me to use every humanly possible effort to beat this nasty situation.

With the same plodding slowness I’d used to sit, I shifted position so my feet could rest on the floor. Eyes straight ahead, at the pace of grass growing, I levered myself up. I stood. Took a baby step. Stopped. Took another. I was walking.

I unlocked the door.

By 2:00 p.m., starving, I baby-stepped to the kitchen, ate, then slept again, sitting up.

By 6:00 p.m. I didn’t have to be as careful. I could stand, walk, and pivot slowly without dire consequences. My heart wasn’t behaving yet, but I knew I’d conquered. The worst was over.

When my girls were little I read them this book:


Poor Alexander. His day really sucked. But not as much as mine did.

This morning my heart beats steadily. My body’s tired but it isn’t struggling to maintain an even keel. I’ve reached out to friends with my scary story and have gotten loving messages in return. That works so much better for me than having them rush to my rescue when there’s absolutely nothing they can do.

I debated posting about my experience but we’re all wired so differently that the standard responses to vaccines, or whatever life throws our way, can vary greatly.

I’m going on record as one of those who doesn’t fit the mold. Maybe my story will bring comfort to someone else who wakes up one morning wondering WTF.

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