Google Translate…Tidak apa apa

I am learning Indonesian. It’s survival. But let’s face it, my mind doesn’t fire on all cylindars as quickly as it used to. Still fires…just not as quickly. It’s a slow process and I’m not a patient person. Ibu, the woman who cleans for me, gets so frustrated with me that she actually starts speaking English! She says she doesn’t know English but when push comes to shove, Ibu knows a heckuva lot more than she let’s on. But Ibu isn’t the problem…it’s Ketut.

When I lived at Rumah Kita, Ketut was my everything. He made my meals, he cleaned my house, he transported me wherever I wanted to go, he was indispensible. And I paid for his services. Now I live next door. Ketut is no longer my staff. But every day about 3:00  he pops his head in my door. “Want cook?” he says. The first time it happened I was surprised and said, “Sure!” He made a delicious Balinese dish that I devoured. As he got ready to leave I pulled out my wallet to pay him for cooking. He refused. “Tomorrow,” he said.

I assumed that meant I could pay him tomorrow. Wrong. It meant he would come back and cook again tomorrow. And he did, and the next day and the next day, refusing all of my efforts to pay for his services. I tried out my best Indonesian on him. “Saya tidak mau masak anda tanpa bayar.” Basically that says, I don’t want you to cook without money. He gave me his 2000 watt smile and said “Tidak apa apa.” The verbatim translation is No what what, but it means No problem.

Each day we had a similar conversation with similar results. Until today, that is. As he repeated his “Tidak apa apa,” Google Translate flashed into my consciousness. I whipped out the computer while Ketut looked at me quizzically. “What?” he said.

“I’m going to solve this problem!” I answered.

“Tidak apa apa,” he said.

“Wrong!” I almost shouted. “There IS a problem and this will fix it!” I pulled up the screens for translating English into Indonesian and typed in “I feel bad when you come here and cook on your time off and won’t let me pay you.” He was watching over my shoulder, chuckling when the Indonesian words popped up as I typed. He started to say something and I said, “Uh-uh, Ketut.” I switched the screens so they would be Indonesian to English then said,  “Type what you want to say in Indonesian.” So he did.

This is what it said, “Don’t worry. I like to cook. It makes me happy to cook for my friend.” I don’t think any tears escaped, but I couldn’t speak for a while. So this post is for my friend, Ketut. His village is in the mountains near Kintamani. I’ve been there many times but this trip was for his daughter’s 12 day ceremony. I got to hold Nenga when she was just 12 days old. Sweetness!

Ketut's mother holding little Nga

Ketut’s mother holds little Nenga


Ketut is such a proud daddy!

Ketut's niece holds Nga while grandpa smiles.

Ketut’s niece holds the baby while grandpa smiles

Ketut's wife, Komang has been up all night for 12 nights because Nga sleeps all day!

Ketut’s wife, Komang has been up all night for 12 nights because Nenga sleeps all day!

What a sweetheart!

I only saw her eyes once for about a half second. She slept through everything…big yawn! What a sweetheart!

Behind Ketut and Komang is the temporary bamboo shrine that marks the spot where the placenta is buried.

The holy man blesses the offerings made for the baby's 12th day

The holy man blessed the offerings made for the baby’s 12th day

The holy man posed for a photo before he took off for his next blessing ceremony!

He posed for a photo before he took off for his next ceremony!

I am always stunned by the way this family gives. Before I left we took a trip to the garden. His mother and brother dug sweet potatoes. Ketut was up a tree faster than a monkey, harvesting handfuls of guavas. Then rambutan, and other tropical delights that don’t have pronounceable names were added to the mounds of edibles. I came home with bags full of produce and a heart overflowing with gratitude.

Friend. The word has taken on new meaning for me. Sometimes it feels even bigger than love.

TV, Vampires, and the Lost Baby

It’s early. I’ve just finished breakfast and I’m sitting on my balcony in that semi-dream state induced by a full tummy and tropical warmth. I’m startled out of my reverie by a distinctly surprised British accent echoing up from below. “What’s this black thing on the sidewalk?!” My curiosity piqued, I peer down and see my neighbor bent over looking at a small dark spot. Ketut joins her. In the next breath I hear the proclamation, “It’s a baby bat!” I race out my door, down the steps and, sure enough, the little guy is too young to fly but he is flopping about on the walk surrounded by enormous humans.

As we tower over the infant a discussion ensues. Where did he come from? I suddenly remember this morning seeing a woman with a knife enter the thick growth three feet from the path. An intense rustling and shaking of leaves ensued and I saw her exit the thicket with several large banana leaves. I report these facts to my friends. Now it makes sense to Ketut who explains that bats live and nest in the deep conical recesses formed by the huge leaves. “Woman cut banana leaf for ceremony, bat fall out,” he says.

We continue to fawn over the grotesque creature. What is it about babies? I hate bats. I don’t know if its tales of vampires or having my head dive-bombed by those shadowy specters after dark, but I have an extreme illogical fear of them. And yet, looking at that tiny, defenseless blob, struggling to fly on immature wings, terrified, I feel something almost like love. Perhaps it’s a semi-dormant maternal instinct kicking in. Ketut evidently feels it too. He disappears for a moment and returns with a piece of banana. Scooping up the struggling creature on a leaf, he offers the treat to a mouth that, for a baby, already displays an impressive array of razor sharp fangs. The bat doesn’t eat and eventually our interest wanes, but not before he is secured on a vine-covered rock under a makeshift banana leaf shelter.

Imagine a place where the business of living each day provides more entertainment than hours of canned programming. Imagine if you will, actually being involved in the unfolding stories, not as an observer, but as a participant. Imagine a setting where drama is played out without cameras rolling or sound bites recorded, where you don’t need to tune in to experience the pathos of daily existence unfolding before your eyes, where the news is mostly good, but when there is tragedy it is personal and people rally around those who are suffering. Welcome to my world where living requires 100% participation and there’s no time left for TV.

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